Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour warned Republicans on Friday that the party needs to embrace immigration reforms that will provide legal status for undocumented workers.
“We need to do better among Hispanic voters,” he told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “In my state, where fewer than 3 percent of the voters are Hispanic, we need to do better.”
Barbour’s remarks came shortly before the White House announced it was ceasing deportations for some young illegal immigrants who had entered the country as children. He warned that the party would be misguided to demonize illegal immigrants, a point he illustrated by demonizing immigrants in other countries instead.
“I believe we are very lucky compared to our European friends and allies, that their neighbors to the south who want to come in to get work despise their way of life, are many radicalized terrorists,” he said. “What we have coming into our country to work on our side are Christians, family-oriented entrepreneurial and by and large work, really, really hard.”
Barbour said the choice was clear on every level.
“The Latino vote makes a difference and can make the difference in a number of critical states, so from a purely political perspective, sure we have to improve,” he said. But he added that it was critical from “good policy perspective” in order to grow the United States economy and prevent it from following the path of other developed nations where an aging population and lack of new workers have strained the social safety net.
In his own state, Barbour said the poultry industry relied heavily on immigrant labor and that there was no substitute for those workers.
“People can’t sell a house, so they can’t move, so they’re stuck,” he said. “So when you fire all these guys in Alabama who are working in the chicken processing plant, there’s nobody to replace them with and the unemployed are not going to move from Virginia or California there because it’s not as easy as it used to be.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.